Our Scottish Summer Camp – Edinburgh

And now, time for our fourth and final summer camp blog post! Having spent eight days roughing it in Loch Lomond, Glen Nevis, and the Cairngorms, we spent the last two days of camp in Edinburgh, appreciating the relatively better weather and the chance for some down time at the Fringe Festival.

SATURDAY

On Saturday morning we packed up for the penultimate time before we set out to our final outdoor activity, river tubing. When we arrived we were given yet another wetsuit to squeeze into, but this time a dry one! A pleasant surprise for us after the last couple of days in the sodden Cairngorms.

For those of you that have never experienced it, river tubing basically involves sitting in an inflatable rubber ring and floating downstream through rapids.The river was fast and enjoyable and we even got another chance to jump into the water, a throwback to the canyoning day. Some of the rapids were slightly more drastic than others and on the last there was a choice of routes, requiring some frantic paddling to get to the most fun one (also the one with guaranteed falling in, naturally). Following this we all attempted a group photo, hanging onto the banks by the tips of our fingers and trying to make sure everyone was facing the right way, despite still being pulled downstream by the current.

 

After leaving the river and changing back into normal clothes we returned to Aviemore for lunch at a local chippy and a quick browse of the local outdoor shops and their summer sales (I mean, who can’t resist bargain hiking kit?). And then we drove on again, heading to our last location: Bonaly Scout Centre in Edinburgh.

We arrived at our campsite where a pleasant surprise was waiting; Marlon had arranged for us to sleep inside in a hall rather than in our wet tents. The amount of relief expressed at this revelation resembled the kind of hysteria that only nine days of permanently damp kit can bring. With the sun putting in a welcome appearance, we moved quickly to lay kit out to dry before heading out to Edinburgh for dinner in a Mexican restaurant.

Us civilisation-deprived Explorers were then released into central Edinburgh on what happened to be the first night of the Fringe Festival, which at that time unfortunately seemed to consist mostly of 18+ events, so we just enjoyed our time wandering around the city before heading back to camp for our last night in Scotland.

SUNDAY

The early morning was spent sorting out group kit, packing tents and cleaning cooking equipment. Soon everything was packed onto the buses and we were on our way back into Edinburgh. Another morning was spent wandering around, exploring markets and festivals across the city, before we headed to a show found by one of our Leaders, Annie. ‘The Men with Coconuts’ provided a fantastic improvised comedy show that the entire Unit can now strongly recommend. The performers used audience suggestions to map out sketches, before wrapping up with “Godzilla goes to the Disco – The Musical”, an impressive show of spontaneous musical talent.

We then picked up lunch, loaded onto the buses and the long long drive home began. This drive followed the same trend as the many others, with equal parts sleeping, singing, and eating. We stopped infrequently, however we did visit the Angel of the North en route for a mandatory group photo. As the hours slowly added up and the skies darkened, the minibus playlists became more and more creative, with one bus engaging in an enthusiastic ‘Lion King’ sing-a-long. We also slowly became aware of what returning home fully entailed, and the remembrance of summer coursework and revision soon had us all pleading to turn round and head back to Scotland.

Eventually, we arrived back at the familiar gates of Scout Park, where all the kit was efficiently unpacked and, with a final farewell from the Leaders, camp was dismissed.

As always with a Scout camp, several thank yous are in order. We are hugely grateful to the Team Leaders who kept camp running smoothly, to all the drivers that sped us on our way, and especially to the Leaders themselves for organising and running such an amazing camp – we certainly won’t be forgetting it for a while!

– Written by the Explorers

Our Scottish Summer Camp – the Cairngorms

We spent two days of our summer camp in the Cairngorms, exploring the local area and going wild camping. This is the third post in our summer camp blog, so to catch up on what has happened so far, check out our Loch Lomond and Glen Nevis posts. Make sure to also keep an eye out for the last post, all about our escapades in Edinburgh!

THURSDAY 

This morning was surprisingly one of the most relaxed we had had on camp so far. As so much of wild camping is reliant on weather, especially in the Cairngorms, we had decided to wait until the morning before deciding on teams and plans for the next two days. Three teams decided to brave the plateau, despite the warnings of extremely varied weather conditions. The rest of the Unit was to stay at camp. After we had decided on a plan, the action began; shopping trolleys were loaded with obscene amounts of carbohydrate and rucksacks were packed with kit, before we finally set off into the hills, each person wrapped in as much waterproof material as they could find.

The warnings about the changeable conditions didn’t do them justice – five minutes into the hike the same rain that had tried its very hardest to penetrate our layers had completely disappeared, forcing us to remove as many layers as we could as quickly as possible before the weather changed its mind. Two groups started a gradual ascent up to the summit of Ben Macdui over the next few hours, with the weather still undecided as to whether it wanted to soak us or overheat us. Meanwhile, another group started by summiting Cairn Gorm, then continuing on to Ben Macdui, the highest point in the mountain range.

Arriving at Loch Etchachan, we found the ground to be a combination of tufts of lumpy grass and bog, definitely not what you want when trying to pitch a tent. The horizontal rain didn’t help, distorting our tents into unnatural shapes and making sure both them and us were as wet as possible. A solution to the tents being blown away was found by placing large rocks onto pegs and guy lines. From the porches of our tents, we had a great view of cloud but entertainment was not thin on the ground – as well as the joys of stove TV (basically just watching your stove as it burns) and seeing people haphazardly run for the cover of their tents on the return from a toilet trip, we were treated with an amazing up close encounter with some wild reindeer. A warm dinner was cooked in the porch of the tents, Chef Esme making an appearance and cooking ravioli with a tomato and basil sauce, extremely welcome to all.

While those who were going wild camping set off on their adventures, the more injured of the Unit were left at camp to find something in the nearby area to do. As we were in a pretty remote area this proved to be harder than we thought, with everything being either outdoors or far too expensive. Eventually it was decided we would visit the Highland Folk Museum, where we ate some very nice ice cream, saw different houses from throughout the history of the Scottish Highlands and met some guys in kilts throwing weights in a traditional Scottish manner.

FRIDAY

The next morning the Explorers out wild camping woke up in the morning to rain still lashing threateningly at the sides of the tents, and wet boots which were tentatively pulled onto feet that had only just got properly dry. Soggy tents were stuffed into rucksacks and after another reindeer encounter we set off, craving the relative comfort of the main camp. One group decided to trade off kilometres for metres of ascent, hopping up and over the hills instead of going round them, gaining 500m in just a couple hours – unfortunately despite our efforts and much puffing and panting, the cloud we were submerged in managed to obscure any view we may have had – before dropping off down a ridge down to the car park where Phil was waiting for us with the minibus. At the same time, two other groups made their way along the side of Loch Avon, slogging it down a route that was more obstacle course than path.

Those that stayed at camp were treated to a nice lie in (a 9am alarm!), before they gathered themselves together and headed to Loch Morlich, a beautiful loch located close to our campsite. Here we went for a little walk along its shores and through the bordering woodland, before finding a quiet spot to sit and chat (and make sand turtles). Soon enough we heard that our wild campers had started to return and so headed back to the minibuses slightly sandy and rather happy.

Back at camp everyone showered, collected wet kit, and attempted to dry off as much of their stuff as possible, before getting ready for a whole Unit barbecue. This barbecue provided a welcome opportunity for some down time, and we took the opportunity to invest Esperanza into the Unit, before she returns home to Chile in September. We also discovered a great new game, tent tetris, trying to coordinate the sleeping arrangements so that all the Explorers were in dry tents. Eventually, everyone found a relatively dry place to set up their sleeping kit, and we were all soon fast asleep.

– Written by the Explorers

Our Scottish Summer Camp – Glen Nevis

This is our second summer camp blog post, detailing our adventures in and around Glen Nevis and Fort William. To hear about what we got up to near Loch Lomond, check out our last post, and make sure to stay tuned for the next two instalments, to hear about the rest of our time in Scotland!

MONDAY

On Monday, our time at Loch Lomond was sadly up, and we all woke ridiculously early to take down camp. We’d just gotten all our kit into the van when the heavens opened (again…), resulting in a mad scramble to get on the minibuses. Soon we were on the road again, heading to McLaren Leisure Centre for the day, and eventually Glen Nevis for our next campsite.

Once we arrived at the Leisure Centre, we quickly changed into sporty clothing and still slightly soggy trainers from Saturday’s watersports. We started with a Leaders versus Patrol Leaders game of laser tag, although unfortunately the technology broke before it could tell us about the inevitable victory of the PLs. Climbing and table tennis were also on offer, with some of our more experienced climbers scrambling up the walls with no hesitation and some off the newer ones getting a nice opportunity to develop their skills.

After a short lunch, we entered the sports hall to play football, basketball and badminton. This soon got very competitive, despite nothing more than everyone’s pride being at stake. Everyone worked up quite a sweat, so we followed this with a refreshing swim, which soon turned into messing around on the inflatables and racing (this is WWESU we’re talking about, after all…).

Next, everyone took advantage of the showers to clean off the accumulated layers of Scout camp dirt, before heading back to the minibuses for the drive to Fort William, where we did some more shopping. Having stocked up on the essentials (houmous, wraps, chocolate biscuits…) we returned to the buses and completed the short drive to Glen Nevis campsite, where we would spend the next few days camping at the foot of Ben Nevis.

TUESDAY

Tuesday presented us with a series of opportunities: tackle Ben Nevis, hike to Steall Falls, or spend the day chilling in Fort William. Eight of us decided to take on Ben Nevis, braving the weather forecast of constant rain. Having committed ourselves to this challenge, we gathered up the necessary kit and made sure we were all fully waterproofed. We then set off, striding up the steep path with typical WWESU determination. This soon proved hard work, the rain turning the trail into a makeshift stream.

Once further up the path, we were again presented with another decision: to take the easier but less interesting route, or the more challenging Carn Mor Dearg arête. The arête was soon found to provide a more stimulating hike for all involved, and therefore we headed in the opposite direction to the route taken by pretty much everyone else on the mountain, making our way to the CIC hut. The majority of the altitude was gained by clambering up a 45 degree slope to reach a height of approximately 1100m. This brought us up to the ridge, where the rapidly shifting mist allowed us brief views of the valley from which we had just come. Eventually we reached the end of the arête, leaving us with only another steep clamber up to the summit. Thanks to Leader Tom’s excellent navigation, we soon reached our goal, and stopped for a well-deserved snack.

Unfortunately, we hadn’t managed to time our visit with one of the 10 days a year on which a clear view from the summit of Ben Nevis is possible, so we weren’t treated to a view of the surroundings. However, we did all appreciate the great sense of achievement that reaching the summit gave us, especially in defiance of the poor weather. We soon pressed on, just as the rain started again, using the handily placed cairns to guide us off the summit. We decided that, partially obscured by mist, these cairns either resembled robed Jedi or super creepy women (think ‘Woman in Black’ kind of style). After a while we rejoined the track that we had left earlier and made our way down the hill, as the rain really started up in earnest. As we staggered back into camp on achy feet, weighed down by sodden waterproofs, we were buoyed up by the thought of the warm dinner awaiting us and a sense of pride in our achievement.

While that determined group gathered their efforts for the trek up Ben Nevis, the rest of us sought a more chilled rest day and decided on a short walk up the Glen Nevis valley to Steall Falls, the second largest waterfall in Scotland. After a short stop for lunch where we enjoyed the staggering view of the 120m falls, it began to rain and we decided to risk getting a little wetter by crossing the river to take a closer look at the base of the falls. To cross the water, we took the Steall bridge, consisting of a single wire for your feet as well as two supports to hold onto as you walk. Once we had all precariously crossed the river we followed the mud that we assumed was some kind of path – wading at times and occasionally losing shoes – until we reached the base of the falls. Water crashed violently around us, the struggle to stay dry having been abandoned a long time ago.

When everyone was ready to leave, we followed the river until it was a little shallower and slower, where we struggled across – if anyone had managed to keep their boots dry up until that point, this soon changed. After several soggy river crossings and a charming walk down the hill we arrived back at camp. Some of us were then driven into Fort William where we hit the outdoor shops. Many bargain hunters went in search of the fluffiest fleeces and warmest base layers… It was a very snuggly group of Explorers who returned to camp later that evening for a quick dinner and cake before bed.

WEDNESDAY 

Wednesday brought a morning of sunshine to our previously grey trip. We packed up camp and bundled bleary-eyed into the minibuses and headed to the Glen Nevis Highland Centre, where the Leaders treated us all to a much-need cooked breakfast. Having eaten our fill, we got back into the buses and drove to Vertical Descents on the River Inchree where we were greeted by the friendly canyoning instructors. After putting on wetsuits, harnesses, buoyancy aids, helmets and shoes we walked up to the head of the canyon, slipping and sliding in the bog along the way.

The waterfalls at the start of the canyon were spectacular, and we were all mesmerised and terrified by the water. The instructors guided us through a series of slides, climbs, swims and jumps. The adrenaline rush jumping off a ten-meter-high cliff and into white water was both sickening and amazing. Almost everybody shied away from the cliff edge but the wonderful instructors coaxed us over the drop and nobody regretted it.

We hurried back to get changed and shovel down some lunch before hopping into minibuses and driving to the via ferrata which was also run by Vertical Descents. Via ferratas – ‘iron road’ for those of you that don’t speak Latin – are climbing routes that follow metal rings, staples and bridges driven into a cliff. The via ferrata we climbed was next to a waterfall and went 110 metres up the cliff face, managing to be both terrifying and awe-inspiring.

The rings made for easy climbing and yet again the instructors were energetic, leap frogging over us and feeding us edible plants from the side of the cliff. Unfortunately, half way up the drizzle set in but the view was still astounding. After reaching the top we scrambled through the bracken down the hill back to Vertical Descents where the Leaders had hot fish and chips ready for us, which we ate in the minibuses.

Soon we were back on the road again, heading up to the Cairngorms National Park. Most of us took the opportunity for a quick nap, so we awoke at Bagaduish Activity Centre to the dark shapes of the Cairngorm mountains. Finally, we set up tents and crashed exhausted into our sleeping bags.

– Written by the Explorers

Our Scottish Summer Camp – Loch Lomond

Last week the Unit took on one of its most complicated and intense summer camps yet: a 10-day tour of Scotland, travelling to Loch Lomond, Glen Nevis, the Cairngorms and Edinburgh. We took part in a huge range of activities, from mountain biking and water-skiing to hiking and wild camping, which came together to make an experience that we’ll never forget. This blog post details our adventures in and around Loch Lomond, and the rest of our travels will be told in instalments throughout the next week, so watch this space to hear the full story!

FRIDAY 

It was a cool, dark morning as we arrived at Scout Park at a time far too early to be reasonable. As the Explorers dribbled in, the van was packed, the minibuses loaded, and we soon set off. The drive was a long one, but musical soundtracks were a key feature throughout the journey, proving invaluable in keeping spirits high.

11 hours and a shopping trip to Glasgow’s Tesco later, we arrived at our campsite, situated right on the banks of Loch Lomond. After a speedy setting up of tents, tarps and Trangias, we gratefully headed off to bed, both apprehensive and excited for the nine days to come.

SATURDAY 

We woke up with expectations of a beautiful sunrise, only to have our hopes quashed by the dreaded rain. A game of Camp Cluedo was initiated: each person gets a victim, a place and murder weapon – usually a GoPro, tent peg, or some other article of essential Scouting equipment – and has to ‘kill’ their victim by giving it to them in the designated place, by the end of camp.

We drove a little way around the loch to our activities base. Two teams were on watersports in the morning, while the other two went mountain biking. Cycling around provided some excellent views of the loch and surrounding hills, despite the constant presence of the rain, and we didn’t even get a puncture (luckily for one team, none of whom knew how to fix one!). For watersports one group had a chance to go water-skiing and the other stand-up paddleboarding, so they had a lot of fun trying out some new activities. Plus, the rain greatly reduced the damage caused by falling in, as we were all pretty wet anyway!

With everyone returning to the base in various states of dampness under a rain streaked and windy sky, the minibuses were the lunch spot of choice. After lunch the groups were swapped, with some doing mountain biking and the others kayaking. The kayakers paddled around, not afraid of capsizing and getting wet (as many people quickly did). From watching us, an observer would be forgiven to thinking our aim was in fact to get as wet as possible. One of our most interesting finds was a half-sunken bench, and the photo opportunities this offered were too good to pass by.

Having exhausted all the bench-related photo options, we set off again and speedily arrived at an island which looked like it had been plucked out of ‘Swallows and Amazons’. After some exploring and another group photo, we clambered back into our kayaks and returned to the shore. With the day’s rain not proving enough for some, we once again plunged into the loch, before returning for dinner at camp.

SUNDAY

Another not so dry start as we manoeuvred our way out of our sleeping bags, ready for a day at Go Ape in Aberfoyle. We all enjoyed being monkeys for a day, swinging around the course and throwing ourselves down zip wires, all while maintaining a tight grip on the Unit GoPros that we’d been entrusted with. The final zip wire provided an amazing view of the valley, if you dared look down!

We had a brief lunch before heading back a little way in the minibuses to be dropped off for an incident hike back to camp, organised by Leaders Bradford and Kamran. At different stages on our hike we engaged in a series of excellent challenges, re-enacting duels near castles, dancing crazily, and adapting several ‘Lord of the Rings’ scenes (watch this space to see all this in our final video!).

Worn out by all the energetic dancing, we were very much ready to eat dinner when we finally arrived back at camp. Later, we gathered under the Leaders’ tarp to perform our final challenge, a poem about the Leaders, all of which had the Unit in hysterics. And then time for the results: Leah’s team won!

The day was also rather eventful with regards to our ongoing Camp Cluedo game, as Ross became the Unit’s most successful serial killer after making four ‘kills’ in quick succession. After all the exertions of the day, we were grateful to soon head off to bed.

– Written by the Explorers

#youthled: Warm Up Camp 2017

When Marlon first suggested that our next camp be led by Explorers, we thought it sounded a bit crazy. Then he clarified that this meant there wouldn’t be any Leaders there at all, and we knew it was a bit crazy.

Our Warm Up for Summer Camp camp – as well as being a bit of a mouthful – is a mixture of chilling after exams and a dry run for our actual summer camp, which will be in Scotland this year. However, it turned out that only two of the seven Patrol Leaders were going to be there, so it fell to Carina and Esme to plan and run the camp.

To save on the stress of trying to put the jurte up in the dark, we ferried all the kit up to Thriftwood Scout Camp on Thursday evening, making for a nice laid back Friday night set up. We discovered that the LONG walk to the toilet block was well worth it for the picturesque pitch.

On Friday evening we navigated the chaos that is taking 18 rucksack-laden teenagers on the London Underground to take the train up to Thriftwood. We’d scarcely arrived at our site before getting the call that our Tesco delivery had arrived, leading to a mad dash back to the entrance to collect our food. We sadly discovered that the car battery we were going to be using as a power source had managed to break overnight, meaning that we were unable to power WWESU’s extensive collection of fairy lights – the sole purpose of taking the battery in the first place. After putting up all the tents and having a much-needed cake snack, we headed off to bed.

Wary of the threatening rain that had fallen during the night, we were relieved to see a cheerful sun on Saturday morning as one team got up to prepare breakfast. After flag break, the day started with a round of on-site activities, from bouldering to some competitive pedal car races.

Then it was time for perhaps our most complicated activity, tie dye T-shirts. Having consulted many different sets of instructions, we decided on a fool-proof method: dip the T-shirts in the dye and hope for the best.

We mixed up a few sachets of brightly coloured dye and found our hoard of elastic bands. Once everyone had scrunched their white T-shirts into interesting shapes, we all started the dying process, managing to get plenty of dye on both the material and ourselves. After the T-shirts had soaked for what was hopefully long enough, we took them out and wrapped them in clingfilm to save until Sunday. We also took the chance to do the same to Marlon’s new bedsheets, that he’d for some reason trusted us to dye – naturally, we chose the brightest combinations of colours possible.

As could be expected from a pair of committed DT students, Max and Lawrence had arrived back from one of the earlier activities clutching a large length of what appeared to be skirting board, requisitioned from the wood pile, and claiming they were going to make a bench. This they promptly got down to, while Ned’s team made lunch.

Saturday afternoon consisted of several games to provide a chance for each team to try and gain a lead in the ongoing inter-team competition that was running throughout the weekend. Having been successfully worn out by an energetic day, everyone had some down time before dinner.

Our excellent dinner crew then prepared a delicious barbecue on the jurte fire, while the now-finished (and very impressive) pioneered bench was put to the test by several hungry Explorers. We were treated to a quick visit from Leader Phil, who turned up on his motorbike suspiciously just in time for a burger, checked we were all still fine, then headed back to London.

Having eaten dinner and done flag down, we headed to the Thriftwood campfire, where everyone got involved in some campfire songs (especially the penguin song – what a classic). After leaving the campfire, we made our way back to our site, where we started up our own campfire. We decided this was the perfect opportunity to treat some of the newer Explorers to Wild Wolf’s impressive repertoire of campfire songs and sketches (needless to say, buckets of water were involved…). It was great to see everyone getting involved in singing along, whether it was to ‘Oh Sir Jasper’, ‘Kumbaya’, or the mandatory round of ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’. Similarly, everyone had a go at an inventive round of charades. We then had a few minutes of quite reflection, before getting off to bed.

Esme and Carina decided that being in charge of 16 teenagers wasn’t quite adventurous enough, so made the decision to sleep in the jurte instead of their tent. All was peaceful until they were woken at around 3am by a shifty-looking magpie intent on stealing our food. After protecting our precious bread with a trusty camp blanket, they quickly fell back asleep.

A few more hours of sleep later, we awoke to the team leaders getting ready to prepare breakfast around us, making good time with a great breakfast to start the day. An excess of yoghurt pots led to some very competitive yoghurt eating from Max and Ned.

After flag break we rolled up our sleeves and began rinsing the tie dye T-shirts, to the sound of a classic ABBA playlist on our portable speaker. Once the water was running clear there was an excited scramble to unwrap various elastic bands and see how the patterns had come out – very nicely, for the most part.

We rigged up a washing line to hang up the T-shirts (not to mention Marlon’s bedsheets) and stoked the fire. While some of us engaged in a little friendly water fighting, those who preferred to stay dry engaged in a traditional round of Shiniest Dixie, leaving Ned’s team victorious in the inter-team competition.

The lunch crew then began to prepare fajitas for lunch, after coercing Esme and Carina off for some ‘relaxation time’. Some of those not involved in cooking lunch then began a game of volleyball over the conveniently placed washing line. During lunch, Ned continued in his mission to down 1kg of yoghurt in shots of 55g.

After a lovely lunch, and with our stomachs full of fajitas we began to prepare for the end of camp. As kit was packed and tents came down the sound of some classic Year 6 disco hits could be heard drifting from our portable speaker. Everyone pulled together to take the jurte down – taking great care to not let it touch the floor! – and pack the car (shout out to Chris for driving all our kit home to Scout Park). Then there was just time for flag down and a quick group photo before we were on our way to the train station.

And so we arrived back in Bounds Green at the end of a chilled out weekend, tired but satisfied, and having given the Sunday afternoon commuters a true display of youth-led Scouting.

A big thanks to all the team leaders for helping keep everything running smoothly, and to Emily, Max and Tilly for taking on their extra roles of responsibility!

– Carina & Esme 

Terrain 1 Hill Walking Permits

After lots of kit preparation and various pieces of paperwork (last minute for some!), the nine Explorers and Leaders who were being assessed to lead hill walking were ready to leave. We started the long drive up to Bethesda in Snowdonia – a place we all know and love! Once we had arrived many hours later, we headed straight off to bed knowing we had a long day of walking ahead of us.

The next morning we awoke to the smell of a cooked breakfast – much appreciated by all present – and after making sure we had the appropriate kit with us, set off into the hills for the start of our assessment.

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Marlon’s group started off with some micro-navigation, which tested their ability to navigate a group through low visibility conditions. Some of these short legs proved to be a little trickier than others as Dave was told to navigate his way to a point between two blades of grass. Despite this, the group was still successful in meeting the targets in a rather featureless landscape. As well as learning lots about hill walking and navigation, we also discovered where the jelly-monsters of Snowdonia live; they rise up to the surface after rainfall causing some rather unstable boggy ground.

– Bradford, Kamran, Ross & Dave

Meanwhile, Stuart’s group was practicing their general navigation combined with some group management. This involved navigating our way through various features that may or may not have existed, as well as being able to keep track of where we were without being told where had just been or where we were headed. Throughout our walk up to the summit of Drosgl, we encountered wildlife such as carnivorous sundew flowers, cotton grass and lots of sheep – unfortunately, not all alive.

– Leah, Simpson, John & Alex

At lunch, we switched groups and continued honing in on the skills we knew as well as learning lots more: handrailing, boxing and catching features being a few of the many techniques we were using. After a few more hours out on the hill, both groups headed back to the hostel for dinner and naps (or very important jigsaw puzzles for some) before our long-awaited night navigation assessment.

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Hearing rain hammering down on the roof of the hostel confirmed what we had read earlier on the forecast and, as 10pm approached, everyone layered up with fleeces and full waterproofs in preparation for the weather conditions we had been dreading. However, on arriving at our starting destination the rain had stopped. Everyone was already overheating and had to strip off a few layers before continuing on. Contrary to expectations, the sky was relatively clear and host to a beautiful sunset over the Welsh landscape – meaning we didn’t actually have to use our headtorches for about another half an hour!

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In a similar fashion to the morning, we split into two groups and began navigating short legs in a combination of pairs, groups and individually. Although still a challenging activity, everyone enjoyed themselves more than they thought they might have and even though it was our assessment we learnt a lot. Along with the surprise of the amazing weather conditions, both groups came across toads and frogs and one group was even accosted with strange green lasers being shone from a nearby house. After a rigorous four hours of night navigation, we were collected and driven back to the hostel where we all tucked into the cheeseboard Marlon had provided. Some may argue that our priorities are little skewed but cheese always comes first. Even at 2am. (This is one of the first things new members of WWESU will learn.)

The next morning while packing up we were called in to have our individual debriefings with one of the assessors. Everyone passed, and we were all given some great pointers for where to go next! Soon after we were ready to leave, so we loaded up the minibus and made our way down the winding Welsh roads towards Betws-y-Coed – one of Wild Wolf’s favourite post-camp lunch spots. The following few hours were spent browsing various outdoor stores, eating ice cream and relaxing by the river. Unlike the previous day, a conscious effort was made to stay protected from the surprisingly bright sun. We finally piled back into the minibus and headed back to London, all exhausted from the challenging weekend but very happy, with more knowledgeable T1 Hillwalking permit holders in the Unit – just in time for Summer Camp.

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Cake with the Twirl Bites

Some time back in August, Ellie, Zuza and I (Carina) decided to do the  Explorer Belt Award – a ten day hike in a foreign country. As the planning got going, we realised something pretty big: we were going to have to finance this trip somehow… cue the fundraising!

Our plan was to hold a cake sale on the street and see what we could make. Having all rushed home from school on Friday to mass-produce baked goods, we turned up this morning at Crouch End clutching bags of cake-filled tupperware and lugging a folding table. We soon found out we’d missed something pretty key: this weekend was the launch of the Crouch End Festival, the UK’s largest community arts festival. While this would mean plenty of customers, we weren’t sure how the organisers would react to us encroaching on their turf! A quick chat and a wave of a Scout scarf later, and everything was sorted: so long as we kept out the way of the WI, we could stay.

We quickly got set up by the bus stop – always good for potential customers – and lay out our wares. Ranging from stacks of lemon curd muffins and exotic raspberry cupcakes to cheerful gingerbread men and super-gooey brownies, we definitely had something for everyone – or we would have had, if there weren’t so many people that insisted on sticking to their diets!

Trade quickly picked up as the streets got more and more busy. Wary of appearing like a stereotypical phone-obsessed teenager, I hid behind the table to publicise our cake sale on the WWESU social media. As normal, we got the usual amount of questions about who exactly we were – Brownies? Girl Guides? Nope, Explorer Scouts.

We also witnessed the repeated struggle between parent and child as to whether cake would be bought or not, which usually takes the form of:

Us: Would you like to buy some cake?

Parent: No, thanks.

Child: YES. YES. CAKE. YES. (until parent reluctantly gives in)

Pretty soon we were running out of stock. The sun, which until then had been hiding behind a conveniently placed tree, now chose to make an appearance. We watched in dismay as Ellie’s beautiful raspberry buttercream melted into bright pink sludge, leading to the solemn sacrifice of two cupcakes to the bin (luckily most of them had been sold by then). Several gingerbread men had lost limbs as a result of tragic accidents, so also had to be sacrificed – although this time to a much worthier cause: the tireless Explorers behind the stall!

At around 2pm, four hours after we started, we decided to call it a day as our once highly aesthetic stall had diminished with each sale, until only two muffins were left – a much less inviting display. Trying not to look too shifty, we quickly counted our takings and concluded that we had made a respectable profit, which would go a long way towards financing our expedition in the summer!

– Carina

To stay up-to-date on how our Explorer Belt is getting on, follow Wild Wolf on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram, and keep an eye out for #twirlbitesontour!

29 Hours on the Isle of Wight

This summer, two teams of our plucky Explorers will be taking on the Explorer Belt Award, hiking for 10 days through Germany. In order to prep themselves for the oncoming challenge, one team decided to take on the dangerous fields of the Isle of Wight. Armed with only their rucksacks and a Nights Away Passport, team ‘Ellie & the Twirl Bites’ boarded an 8:30am train from Waterloo, and left civilisation behind…As the ferry docked we felt giddy with excitement at the thought of being more than two hours away from our legal guardians. That was quickly brushed aside as the true enormity of our plan hit us. Our trek started with a scenic walk along the pebbly beaches of Yarmouth, heading west towards the Needles. Soon enough the cerulean blue of the Solent was left behind as we headed through a forest. After a brief flirt with a wooden statue we carried on our treacherous route until we reached the wreckage of a path, where erosional processes had led to the untimely demise of a section of path that we desperately needed. Luckily this had been in 2012, so a new path had since been created. We came to the realisation that we were navigating by a pier that existed on the map, but not in real life, meaning that in fact we were further than we had thought! Turning left, we headed up the winding road to eventually meet our campsite. Once arrived we checked in, receiving the locals’ now familiar questioning of our sanity for undertaking this journey. Within minutes we had our tent pitched and were heading back to a shop we had seen earlier to gather supplies. After much debate, and a demand for protein and vegetables, our dinner menu was sorted: pasta and tomato sauce with tuna and tinned carrots (not as weird as it sounds, actually). Ice cream was, of course, a necessity, as was hot chocolate. Rations for the next day were bought and we left the shop with a dry bag full of food and the ice creams already in our hands, ready to be gobbled down by ravenous mouths. Once we returned to our campsite, we were exhausted after our hard day of hiking, and so had a nap in the sun – not unlike a cat might. However, for Zuza this nap resulted in some interesting tan lines from her hiking socks!

By the time 5 o’clock rolled around, it was the general consensus that it was time for dinner, and so, with stoves put expertly together, our massive bag of pasta was cooked, before being mixed with the tomato sauce, tuna and carrots. Once the vast amount of food had been consumed, we washed up and put everything away, then decided to head down the long and winding road to the Needles, where we would watch the sunset and take aesthetic photos. It turned out that we severely overestimated the distance we had to walk, and it only took us half an hour. By the time we got to the geographical beauty that is the Isle of Wight’s Alum Bay, the associated tourist areas were a deserted wasteland, full of nothing but the pounding sun and the blasting wind. After realising we were three hours early for the magnificent sunset we anticipated, we decided to head off down the path towards the westernmost tip of the island, where the Needles themselves were located. If you weren’t aware of some of the geographical wonders of the coasts of the Isle of Wight, let me enlighten you. The sheer chalk cliffs allow for the formation of what are known as stacks and stumps. These are formed through many complex processes, but if we’re going back to the basics they are just bits of rock that are sticking out of the ocean (which are pretty cool if you’re a geography student!).The path that led down to the Needles was an estimated 20 minute walk, as we learnt from the nice National Trust sign at the beginning of the path. These 20 minutes were spent enjoying the geology of the local landscape – well, that’s what happened for me and Carina, Zuza just called us geography nerds and looked disappointed. When we reached the Needles we took many photos and panoramas of the stunning view, before walking back incredibly slowly to the viewpoint at Alum Bay, which would be the best place from which to see the sunset. Two hours passed, in which we danced, sang and froze in the howling wind. Time lapses were attempted and failed, before we got to 9:06pm, which (according to multiple weather apps) was when the sun was supposed to set. Instead of descending in a glorious array of colours, however, the sun went behind a cloud. We decided to head back to camp with high spirits ready for the next day.At 7am a whole chorus of alarms went off, jerking us out of our slumber and on to the day ahead. We started with packing everything back into our rucksacks, before enjoying a breakfast of numerous chocolate brioches and hot chocolate. After packing the tent down we went off on our way, saying cheery goodbyes to our fellow campers and the owners of the campsite. It was with joy in our hearts that we set off that sunny morning, heading up the first hill of the day. At the top of this treacherous hill sat Tennyson’s Monument, with stunning panoramic views of the whole of the Isle of Wight. Once much water had been drunk, we set off again in the scorching heat heading downhill to Freshwater Bay. Here Carina and I nerded out some more about the geography (stacks and stumps!) before the trio carried on, going north this time, and experiencing some of the majestic fields of the island. Soon signs pointing toward the final destination of Yarmouth appeared, with gradually decreasing distances, which lead to the realisation that we were moving quicker than expected (yes, again). This meant that we soon rounded a corner only to find that we had reached the road we started at the day before, completing our planned circular route.

It was quickly agreed that lunch was a good idea, and we enjoyed a feast of salami wraps and twirl bites, sitting on the edge of the water with hiking boots and socks removed – always a great feeling!. This, of course, escalated to a small amount of paddling in the cool sea, before lazing around on the promenade waiting for the ferry for which we were 5 hours too early (better early than late, right?).

As Carina neared the end of her book that had so far survived the journey, we thought the time was right for a lovely cream tea in the sun, so we once again hoisted our rucksacks onto our backs, winced as we did up the waist straps and headed back into Yarmouth in search of a cream tea near the sea. It didn’t take long to find, and we managed to negotiate the tearoom without causing any serious injuries with our massive bags, quickly getting down to enjoying our scones. Once these were finished, we completed our expedition with the short walk back to the ferry terminal where it all began.

– Ellie

Watch this space for the upcoming video of our exploits on the Isle of Wight, and for more details of our main expedition this summer!

A Wild Weekend

Wales, wild camping, and walking? Sounds like a great way to spend a few days, as some of our Explorers found out this weekend…

The trip began with a long drive and, as is camp tradition, the whole bus joined in singing along to ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’. However, apparently arriving at nearly midnight doesn’t warrant access to the main campsite, so we were confined to the late arrival area beside the river. After a short stargazing session, we all happily headed off to bed.

We arose the next morning and, stubbornly ignoring the grey overcast sky, our spirits were high. After eating an assortment of pastries and freshly baked baguettes (yum), we were on our way.

We started our hike by leaving Beddgelert on a relatively flat path that took us by a few of the beautiful surrounding Welsh lakes, but before long we found ourselves trekking uphill through patches of bog disguised as grass. However this gave us the perfect opportunity to practice our micro navigation (and to learn the valuable lesson that field boundaries and footpaths are not always correctly marked on the map!) A few kilometres and a carb loading session later – also known as lunch – we reached a ‘Grand Designs-esque’ farmhouse where we split into two groups…

For our group’s route, we each led for a leg to developed our navigation skills. Max led the way first, paving a route though open fields, bogs and streams, following a path which didn’t seem to physically exist. At one point on the hike, Ned got a little thirsty, and, rather than using his water bottle like a normal person, decided to kneel down and use the stream. Purely ‘accidentally’, some well placed boots from the group left him helpless on his backpack, limbs flailing like a beetle.

Continuing our hike, we passed the lovely Llyn Llagl and quickly summited Craig Llyn-Llagl. Whilst we admired the small lake on the summit, Ned endeavoured to jump onto a little island. Not one to think things through, with a running jump he made it, only to realise this would not work on the way back, as there was no room for a runway. With a walking pole crane having extracted his boots from danger, he made the leap. Teenage hormones pumping, he reached the shore, but quickly slipped off, in the the water. After a quick change we continued to our wild camping spot by a lake.

– Lawrence

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Our group’s adventure was slightly more civilised. Leaving the other group behind we put our micro navigation to the test as we attempted to stay on the correct bearing in order to get to the meeting point. Some non existent field boundaries and ambiguous paths later, we took in the astounding view of Llyn Llagi and wondered about the upcoming evening over a snack of sugar in several forms. Beating the other group to the Llynnau’r Cwn (the meeting point) we decided to scope out all of the potential campsites, eventually deciding on one with a sea view and, most importantly, phone signal.

– Megan

We pitched our tents and most of us spent the following hours cooking dinner and playing newly-invented survival shelter rugby. While washing up in the lake nearby, Will discovered a strange, glow in the dark, jelly-like alien species; soon named the donutus extraterrestrialis. Esme, however, managed to sleep through all this excitement and finally awoke from her nap to find that the rest of us had decided to get an early night.

The next morning we were woken up at the ungodly hour of 5:30am, making us all extremely thankful for getting that early night. After striking camp, we set off into the hills looking forward to another day of exploring the Snowdonian landscape. Making the peak of Cnicht just before nine o’clock, we had made good time and so rewarded ourselves with Skittles and other sugary snacks before planning our descent.

Skree, woods and bog failed to halt us as we crashed through the undergrowth down into the valley, where we gratefully sank into a wooded clearing full of bluebells for lunch.

At Wild Wolf, houmous is an extremely important part of lunch – no, life. However, the pronunciation of the word has become a very controversial issue… hoo • mus, hum• mus and huh • mus were all suggested pronunciations but even relentless debating could not sway anyone’s position.

We then set off on the last leg of our hillwalking experience, keeping an eye out for a good swimming spot as we went.

Plunging into the cool depths of the Afon Glasyn cleansed and refreshed us, ready for the journey home. No one was looking forward to another five hours in the minibus; especially when those five hours counted down to the end of another, quite literally, wild and wonderful trip.

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Watersports & Wales: Easter Camp 2017

Easter Eggs? Check. Excited Explorers? Check. Exhilarating experiences? Check. It must be Easter Camp!

On Thursday 13th April, several minibuses packed full of Explorers and their assorted kit headed up to St Brides on Wales’ Pembrokeshire coast for an unforgettable Easter Camp.

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How about that for a campsite?

Friday morning started early for our Explorers; the agenda today, a 20(ish)km hike. After a bustle of packing day bags we were set to go. Our group consisted of Amy, Ellie, Tilly, Max, Michal and me (Emily). Today’s incident hike consisted of a series of challenges at each checkpoint. At the first checkpoint we were challenged to lift an empty bucket with two ropes from a few metres away, a challenge for which we planned the technique out, but executed poorly! Sadly, at our first checkpoint we lost one of our members – and then there were 5. Our second checkpoint was slightly further away, and thanks to my observant nature (apparently) we spotted an arrow composed of rocks pointing ‘Wild Wolf’ in a direction down to the beach. This challenge was to cook a meal, so we made poached eggs using the tasty saltwater, beans, tomatoes, and buttered bread – a task we performed particularly well at, deciding to hide the remaining cans of beans to provide an extra challenge for the other teams passing by the checkpoint. [Whilst we were at this checkpoint nibbling at our lunch, the PL group had got to the same point. A couple of our cheeky team members decided to hide a lovely rock collection in one of their bags. After which we quickly scampered off, intrigued throughout the rest of the walk by if they had noticed or not.] Our third checkpoint tested us to put up a tent with some of our members blindfolded. Somehow whilst feeling the floor for a pole Michal managed to find some lovely excrement on the floor. On our journey to Checkpoint 4, we strolled along an abandoned airfield and attempted to gradually make spherical shaped rocks by throwing them continuously (a great time consumer!). At the beach we were greeted by Neall and Tom with a mini orienteering challenge and a quiz (involving a slight disagreement about a postbox). After that, on the final stretch back to camp we spotted many pinecones, a shoe, a bucket, and a bull in a field, which we tried to avoid. When we got back we were proud to have accomplished yet another hike.

– Emily

Full speed ahead!

On Saturday, we were given the chance to get stuck in with some watersports, either going surfing or canoeing on the River Cleddau.

After a nauseating ride down the twisting Welsh country lanes, we arrived at a bleak and empty car park by the sea. Many of us were grateful to be off the bus and as we were wearing swimming attire under our clothing (#beprepared!), there was no need to change in the cold. Fortunately there wasn’t much standing around and soon we were kitted out in full winter wetsuits from head to toe. Down at the beach, following some safety briefs, we were all in the water and despite the calm weather, everyone was throwing themselves into the surfing. Within just a few hours we were catching waves (ish) and some people even managed to stand on two feet… before collapsing spectacularly into the sea. However, if you have ever surfed, you’ll know it’s tiring work and some *cough Ned cough* decided to take a more relaxed approach and repurposed their boards into lilos. While not all of us became master surfers before lunchtime, we could not have embraced the surfer attitude with more enthusiasm and we definitely got ‘surfing hair’. Over the course of the day, I learnt that surfing is a lot harder than it looks, and to those leaders who claimed to have ‘not seen much surfing’, I can’t wait to see you try! It is safe to say we all had a great time and were reluctant to peel off our gear the end of the session. Thanks again, Dragon Activities!

– Esme

It was a beautiful day for some canoeing

Sunday saw us take to the seas in a fleet of kayaks, having a great time paddling through some amazing scenery.

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We explored some natural sea caves, and only had a few capsizes!

On Monday morning we had a disgustingly early start. We had to be, up, out and ready as normal for 8 am, but today we also had to pack down tents and the whole campsite before that time! However, we all managed fine and in typical Wild Wolf fashion we were ready for anything; and by anything, we mean jumping off 10 metre high cliffs into the sea! We drove to St Brides Bay and met up with our coasteering instructors. We quickly got kitted out in full gear (including wetsuit socks and hats!) and made our way down the ever-beautiful coastal paths to where we were to start. Coasteering isn’t just about jumping off of cliffs though, it involves traversing the cliffs; getting across gorges and gaps in the rocks; climbing up, down and around the rocks and swimming in the sea, as well as the cliff jumping. As you can imagine, however, the main highlights were of course hurling ourselves off cliffs into the freezing cold sea. We jumped off rocks that were everywhere between 1m and 9m above the sea, into calm sheltered pools and choppy bits of ocean, and it was absolutely brilliant. This was the first time Wild Wolf have done coasteering, but it definitely won’t be the last!

– Ben

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An experience not to be forgtten!

After going coasteering, we sadly had to head back to London, but we returned home with fond memories of an amazing weekend.